Help! New Music Service Organizations Answer the Call

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), is an association of over 80,000 members including composers, songwriters, lyricists, and publishers. Its main function is to protect members’ rights by licensing and distributing royalties for performances of copyrighted works. Founded in 1914 by Victor Herbert, ASCAP members have included Tito Puente, Duke Ellington, Beck, Madonna, George Gershwin, Stevie Wonder, and many others who span styles from folk to film to concert music.

Frances Richard, Vice President of the Symphonic and Concert Department of ASCAP, feels that advocacy is one of the most important thing ASCAP does. Advocacy to her is multi-faceted. ASCAP assists composers in finding new projects, especially the ones that might help them to become self-sufficient. It may introduce a composer to a filmmaker who needs a score, or encourage a composer to take a job writing for a TV commercial. Richard states that ASCAP is also there “to find and make not only a collaboration for one work but a life-long partnership with somebody who will champion your work.”

ASCAP promotes its existing twentieth century catalogue, and fosters the development of new repertoire from both established composers and emerging composers. It encourages other organizations to support new music as well. (e.g., Every year ASCAP presents Adventurous Programming awards to orchestras, choruses and chamber ensembles which have demonstrated a substantial commitment to recently-composed music.)

ASCAP is there to let people know what’s available, to ensure composers are treated professionally, and that they get the proper amount of rehearsal time that a piece deserves. Richard continues that ASCAP is also “working very hard with those artists who are looking to extend the boundaries to which concert music reaches, either through technology, internet streaming, multi-media works, and installations. [We also encourage them] to collaborate in what we would call dramatic work, even though we do not license dramatic work.”

There are over 800 composer members who are under 35. And each year, ASCAP presents the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards to emerging composers under the age of 30. The association also educates composers on how to promote and take care of their own careers. It encourages them to self-publish, to learn what is involved in and how to write a contract, and how to set a fee. ASCAP also shows composers how to protect their rights and to get people to understand the way intellectual property should be treated. These things are often not discussed in universities, and performers are rarely enlightened. ASCAP also assists composers in evaluating their catalogue: a composer who has written fifteen operas might be encouraged to write chamber music.

There are many other ways that ASCAP supports its members. Richard started a small fund with Leonard Bernstein when they celebrated his 70th birthday, a kind of emergency pocket-change fund. “When we first talked about it Lenny said: ‘You know what I mean, a composer could use maybe in a big hurry $250 because he has to buy a tuxedo because he’s going to a world premiere of his piece.’ I just got a request for a tuxedo…we’re going to give it to him. Advocacy means sometimes you have to take somebody and hold their head after the critic just lynched them. It could mean you have to reassure them when something falls through that they had their heart set on. It means not every day is a good day. We’re not just here when somebody wins a Pulitzer Prize to stand up and congratulate them, but on all the other days as well.”

Richard believes that we are currently taking part in “a great era, and the whole American contribution will have some future date when people who are afraid to give their opinion now will know what a fruitful and exciting period this is.”

From Help! New Music Service Organizations Answer the Call
by Karissa Krenz
© 1999 NewMusicBox